A Place of Our Own
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Special Needs : Learn
Special Needs: Learn To have the best chance at success, every child needs a stable relationship with loving adults, including their child care providers. One important way to develop that kind of relationship with each child in your care is to find out what kind of people they are. What are their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, personality traits, preferred learning styles and skill levels? Understanding that every child is unique, and using their unique qualities to help them learn, is the key that unlocks children’s innate ability to thrive.

Ideas, Issues and Advice

All children need care that meets their individual needs. The better you are at meeting "special needs," the better you will be at meeting all children’s needs.


"Special needs" broadly refers to children with particular conditions not found in the majority of the population (e.g., Down Syndrome, autism, sight or hearing impairment, etc.) as well as any child whose development is atypical. The best way to support children with special needs is, as much as possible, to include them in everything their peers do.



In the past, people assumed that children who did not fit into the normal range of development due to physical or mental disabilities, were not capable of learning along with other children. Today we know that such children are often quite capable and that including them benefits both the children with and the children without disabilities. This movement towards inclusion has sparked the creation of special strategies and techniques that allow child care providers to adapt their current practice in ways that not only meet the special needs of children with disabilities, but that provide all children with excellent opportunities to learn.



  • Be consistent. Provide a predictable schedule and stable environment.
  • Be a careful observer. Identify what makes each child happy or frustrated, what they do well and what they need help doing. Prepare activities that provide opportunities for success as well as growth.
  • Convey information in a variety of ways. For example, include pictures along with print on your daily schedule or shopping list.
  • Be flexible. Modify activities so that children can participate in different ways. Allow that some children need more time than others to finish tasks.
  • Break big tasks into small steps. Let children who can complete a step on their own do so. Provide help on steps that may be beyond a child’s developmental abilities.
  • Use repetition. Provide opportunities for a child to continue to practice until they have mastered what they have been challenged to do.
  • Invite verbal interaction. Ask children to use words and sentences to convey their desires, feelings, or experiences. Model calm communication.
  • Model inclusion. Facilitate interaction among children so that no one is left out.
  • Pay attention to signs of sensory overload. Move children out of group activities before “meltdowns” occur. Prepare your environment ahead of time to provide quiet spaces and play spaces that aren’t crowded.
  • Be willing to experiment. Find out which activities and adaptations work best for each child and be willing to abandon those that don’t work well.
  • Know what is reasonable to expect at various stages of development, so you can spot anything out of the norm. If you suspect that a child has a developmental delay, work with health care providers, your local school district, and/or regional centers to assess and deal with any potential problems.
  • Remain patient.

To find out more about caregiving strategies to help you identify and work with special needs, you can watch A Place of Our Own and visit these websites:

Related Links



Words of wisdom from Fred Rogers on “When Difference Hurts”


The Child Care Plus Center on Inclusion in Early Childhood project at the University of Montana has produced a series of Tip Sheets on how to include children with disabilities in your child care. Topics range from general notes on what inclusion is to very specific strategies on how to adapt toys and activities.


Get Ready to Read is a campaign of the National Center for Learning Disabilities. The site contains an excellent set of links for general information on literacy, as well as activities appropriate for children with different learning styles and abilities, and a screening tool to help you assess what skills children already possess.



This links you to an article entitle, “ Everyday Ways to Teach Children About Respect”, which covers topics like language, environment, choosing books, and anger management as they relate to diversity issues.


PBS, in cooperation with the American Library Association, provides annotated book recommendations searchable by topic for both children and adults on a range of topics relating to getting along with others, difference and diversity, disabilities, and more.


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Tips on Providing an Environment that Supports All Children pdf
Tips on How to Make Every Child Feel Valued pdf
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